The Dance of the Harvest Moon

An excerpt from “Wild Dog” a novel by Fidel Namisi.

Silver beams of moonlight painted a chiaroscuro on the canvas of the night. Yasuka, now filled after his third helping of meat and beer, glanced around the gathering and let his eyes rest on Dzugudini. She was talking and laughing with Luba as she ate, her eyes twinkling in the reflection of the fire. A dull ache arose in his tummy as he watched, and he found himself deeply longing to sit beside her. But he couldn’t get up and cross over to the side of the women. Everyone would look at him funny. He glanced up at the moon, wondering whether the celestial woman sitting there was working some of her magic on him.
A troop of lyre players joined the drummers, and the beating drums were soon accompanied by a sweet melody as enchanting and heart-quickening as the vision of the full moon. The musicians were taking turns to eat. As some played, others munched away at their portions of elephant meat. The music and the eating continued without stopping, forming a luminous backdrop for what was to come next.
Without warning, a woman rose to her feet, let out a shrill ululation, and danced her way toward the bonfire, stomping her feet with every step and rattling the shakers around her ankles. Several other women around the bonfire followed her lead, rising to their feet, ululating and stomping their way to the middle of the clearing, in time with the beating drums. Dzugudini and Luba, unsure what to do, remained in their places, surrounded by the elderly women who remained seated.
The women who had stood up arranged themselves in a row. They ebbed backward and forwards towards the men sitting opposite them – egging them on, provoking them, teasing them, inviting them. Except for Yasuka and Chenzira, all the men rose to their feet and stepped into the clearing with a loud, triumphant yell. They formed a line parallel to that of the women, pairing off into couples about an arm’s length apart from each other.
An elderly woman struggled to her feet, and skirting the edge of the clearing, made her way to the side of the men. She grabbed Yasuka and Chenzira’s arms, pulled them to their feet, and shoved them into the clearing, lining them up next to the men. At the same time, another old woman shoved Dzugudini and Luba into the clearing. Yasuka found himself standing opposite Dzugudini. Chenzira was opposite Luba. Chenzira smiled and chuckled. Luba shrugged her shoulders.
“Looks like we have no choice but to dance,” Chenzira said.
“The pleasure is all yours,” Luba answered, as the music picked up its pace and the two rows matched its rhythm with their fluid motions.
The dance of the blue moon was common across the empire, with slight variations from tribe to tribe. Also called the harvest dance, it was a common language that united them all in the motion of their bodies. The four were familiar with all the steps and rhythmic beats of the dance. After a few moments, they were dancing just as well as the Abedamas themselves. The men and the women were in two opposite rows. Keeping time with the drums, they stamped their feet and skipped forward, the two rows interweaving. Then they paired off into couples. Each couple mimed embracing each other in graceful twirls, reminiscent of moonlit reflections on water. Their movements, synchronized to the beating drums, mirrored the celestial harmony above. The lyres, with their sweet melody, were a perfect accompaniment to the nocturnal symphony. The men leaped as high as they could, and reached for the moon and the stars, thumping their feet hard when they came down. The dance’s fluid curves and circular movements mirrored the grace of the lunar phases.
Though gentle and flowing, as the dance continued, it became a test of endurance. Imitating the moon’s unfailing journey, the dancers kept their spirals and interwoven lines without breaking. But age caught up with the older ones, and they were the first to drop out. They sat down at the edge of the clearing and watched the others continue.
Chenzira tired quickly, and despite his best efforts to keep up, also sat out. Luba was only too happy to join him, sitting at the edge of the clearing. Dancing was not her thing, but she was not about to give up before Chenzira, a man twice her age. But Yasuka and Dzugudini continued. Neither one was going to give up.
The night and the dance wore on. Sweat beaded the dancers’ foreheads and glistened on their skins in the silver moonlight and the golden bonfire. Pair by pair, the dancers sat down, as the drummers and the lyre players continued with their moon song. Soon, only two pairs of dancers were left in the clearing. Yasuka and Dzugudini, and a young couple who were well-toned and well-coordinated. But they too soon tired and sat down. A cheer from the crowd ushered them away from the bonfire and into the ranks of the onlookers.
Now only Dzugudini and Yasuka were left. The drumming crescendoed, becoming faster and more frenetic. The two picked up the pace of their stomping and swaying and bobbing. They were bathed in sweat, breathing hard as they gazed at each other, eyes burning with determination and the sheer ecstasy of living, becoming one with the rays of the moon that bathed them in its blue-white glow. Neither was going to accept defeat. Neither would be the first to end this moment of nocturnal bliss.